Catching up with ‘The Crying Man’ whose image defined Wales at Euro 2016
There were many defining images from Welsh football’s glorious summer of 2016.
When Wales finally arrived on the global stage at the European Championship In France, their unexpected passage to the semi-finals served up unforgettable memories for fans who had waited their whole lives for such an occasion.
There was, however, one particular moment that perfectly encapsulated the joyful feelings of the massed ranks of The Red Wall, those who had travelled more in hope rather than expectation, content to have finally qualified for a major international tournament after waiting the best part of 60 years.
It arrived at the conclusion of an extraordinary night in Toulouse, which saw Chris Coleman’s men comprehensively outplay Russia, recording a 3-0 victory with an outstanding display of dominating, attacking football.
At full-time, a frenzied party erupted in the Wales end. It hit delirium when the big screen showed Wales topping Euro Group B ahead of the old enemy, England, having qualified for the knockout stages.
It was all too much for one Wales fan caught unaware by TV cameras. Tears rolling down his cheeks, shaking his head in disbelief at what he had witnessed, the unforgettable image of Jamie Collins sobbing uncontrollably was immortalised in that moment. The perfect embodiment of all of us in the stands in Toulouse that night, who had witnessed this stunning display, it became a defining image of Wales at the Euros.
Jamie’s emotional outpouring was beamed live to 1.4m viewers on ITV, and later picked up on BBC’s Match of the Day highlights programme.
The bewildered and incredulous primary school teacher from Wrexham didn’t know it immediately, of course, but he was soon to go viral on social media, the world reacting enthusiastically to a momentous footballing achievement for a team that was given little chance of progressing at Euro 2016,
Five years later Jamie says he is still reliving that famous night in Toulouse thanks to his image captured in gifs and memes that crop up online and the fact he regularly gets stopped and asked if he is ‘The Crying Man’.
The father of twins, happily admits he’ll never tire of reliving the moment when his – and our – footballing dreams came true in Toulouse.
“The thing is I didn’t have my phone on me, so didn’t know what was going on until my mates at the game started receiving texts from friends with images and videos of me captured on TV and the big screen in the stadium,” he recalls.
“When I walked outside somebody asked for a photo with me. That’s the first inkling I got that something ridiculous had happened and I was thinking to myself ‘what’s going on here?’
“Me and my mates went back to our apartment and they started saying to me ‘look at this’. My face was everywhere. I couldn’t believe it. I thought ‘this is getting ridiculous’.
“My mum and dad were on holiday at my sister’s house in Abersoch and when they came on the phone they said ‘oh my god, this is crazy.”
When he got back to the primary school he teaches at in North Wales, the children in his class were already prepared for his arrival.
“I walked into the classroom and they all started waving tissues at me,” he laughs.
In his local pub he was also greeted like a hero, with the residual benefits that brings.
“I had free pints from the barman, everyone there was loving it and offering me a drink,” he adds. “Even now I get asked by people, ‘are you the crying man?’ And I don’t mind it at all, it still makes me laugh.
“Somebody recently made a gif of it and it had something like 30 million views of me crying my eyes out,” he says with all the incredulity that sentence affords.
Jamie confides that his outpouring of emotions were due as much to the phenomenal display he had witnessed and memories of Wales’ late manager Gary Speed.
“It was possibly the best football I had ever watched from the team I love. I expected us to get a tonking from Russia, but to see us play the way we did in such an incredible atmosphere was unbelievable,” he says.
“On the way over to France I read a book about Gary Speed and I couldn’t put it down. At the end of the game a Gary Speed chant went up, everybody started singing and that’s what tipped me over the edge and started me off crying.”
Like many Wales fans who had waited for this moment their whole lives, Jamie and his friends planned their trip with military precision.
“The night of the draw we sat there with maps, iPads galore, ready to book motor homes, trains, planes, whatever was needed.
“Me and two mates went out for the group stages and then other people hopped in and out as we progressed.”
The Wales fan says in addition to ‘that’ moment, there were many other highlights.
“The first time we walked into the town square in Bordeaux and saw The Red Wall that was a wild moment, then there was Bale’s free kick against Slovakia, the England game was horrendous and even now I try not to think about it, but that night in Toulouse drinking with the Russians who were such a nice bunch, there were so many good memories.”
The pandemic has put paid to a repeat of thousands of Wales fans travelling en masse, and Jamie like so many others has had to cancel his planned trip.
“We had tickets and flights booked for Rome,” he says. “Then the pandemic struck and I held on as long as I could hoping we could go but like many other Wales fans it would have proved too risky, too complicated and too difficult to navigate everything.”
This weekend will be a special one for Jamie, not only for the fact Wales open their Euro 2020 account against Switzerland, but today he also celebrates his 37th birthday.
“My birthday has landed nicely on the first game,” he says. “So hopefully I’ll be celebrating my birthday and a Wales victory with my mates. We’re watching the game at Hill Street, a new football bar that has opened in Wrexham. The atmosphere should be fantastic and I can’t wait.”
As for how he thinks Wales will fare this time.
“In the group I’m actually most worried about Turkey, I think we could turn up against Italy – big team, big game. I do think we’ll get out of the group and I think we’ll beat Switzerland. Just getting through the group stage, who knows what will happen then.”
As a Wrexham fan Jamie is getting used to experiencing the unexpected. He reckons he’s still in shock at Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney taking over his beloved club.
“I still keep thinking this can’t be right and I’m going to wake up and it’s all a dream,” he jokes. “I was reading an article about potential new managers now that (former boss) Dean Keates has left, and they were talking about Mark Hughes. I thought ‘Mark Hughes? I know he’s from Wrexham but he’s never going to manage us’.
“It’s just nice to have that feeling that one day we could be up there along with Swansea and Cardiff. You can always dream.”
As that unforgettable night in Toulouse proved, when it comes to Welsh football, anything can happen and probably will.
And in the famous words of Chris Coleman, after another remarkable Wales’ performance: “Don’t be afraid to have dreams.”